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Hammond School Board opens door to cutting bus service, following referendum failure

Hammond School Board members debate procedure during their Dec. 5 meeting.
screenshot from School City of Hammond YouTube video
Hammond School Board members debate procedure during their Dec. 5 meeting.

The School City of Hammond's bus transportation is on the chopping block, as district leaders look for ways to cut spending.

The school board voted three-to-two Tuesday to give notice that it plans to end school bus service in 2027. But Chief Financial Officer Eric Kurtz stressed that decision could be changed, and school officials will spend the next three years looking at ways to keep the service going.

"Clearly, this isn't something that anyone with the board or the School City of Hammond or our families want," Kurtz told board members. "The reality is that we have to trim a lot of spending."

The school board also voted to seek a total of $10 million dollars in tax anticipation warrants, to have enough cash on hand to pay bills throughout 2024. And Kurtz warns that the challenges will grow in 2025. That's when the district's operating referendum ends. Plus, a new state law will kick in, requiring school corporations to share their operations fund money with charter schools.

Board member Carlotta Blake-King agreed that spending cuts need to be made, but she felt ending bus service would break the promises made during school consolidation discussions. "I find this resolution to be reckless, fear mongering, heartless and a form of retaliation," Blake-King said.

But Superintendent Scott Miller argued that factors changed, when voters failed to renew the district's operating referendum. "Eventually, the primary funding source for schools, the way it's set up in Indiana — it's not a School City of Hammond thing — are referendums," Miller told board members. "That's how school pays for these things. It is. It's the primary source of funding. It's how they set it up, and if you don't like what I'm saying, talk to the legislature down in Indianapolis. They're the ones who set up the game to be like this."

He added that the biggest expense was employees, including recent raises to keep up with the cost of living.

But teacher Juliet Dukes said she and many teachers are still living paycheck to paycheck, and they're burned out, due to poor planning from administrators. "The school year has been one long exhausting debacle of never-ending directives being sent from the district and constant questioning for what's going to happen next, and the first semester is yet to come to a close," Dukes told board members. "Teachers are exhausted across the board."

She said school leaders haven't been transparent about pay.

School City of Hammond would continue providing transportation to students in foster care, those experiencing housing insecurity and certain special education students, as required by law. Board member Cindy Murphy said the school corporation could avoid cutting bus service entirely by passing a referendum in 2024, but she said it would take the support of the entire school board.